By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
TWO WAYS OF LOOKING AT STEVENS
I was startled to learn from Howard Hampton's essay-review of my book, The Middle Mind: Why Americans Don't Think for Themselves ["Magical Mediocrity Tour," The Essay, January 7-13] that I was the kind of person (a member of the "disenfranchised intelligentsia" full of "professorial paternalism") who caused another kind of person ("the common people," whoever they are) to do things like vote for Arnold Schwarzenegger. Whoops! Sorry about that! Hampton's essay also reminded me of a phrase from Wallace Stevens's poem "The Emperor of Ice Cream": He whips "concupiscent curds." But, of course, from Hampton's point of view, my willingness to use the "elite" work of Stevens, or Adorno, or Radiohead (Radiohead?), or, God save me, Jacques Derrida is just the problem with my book. I'm just another stilted, pseudo-hip, privileged, self-aggrandizing, solipsistic, self-pitying professor. (Never mind that I spend a whole chapter spelling out what's wrong with the politics of academia these days.)
I wouldn't object to this maybe-just-a-little-bit-anti-intellectual critique if I didn't think that there was a serious point to be made. I happen to think that the unavailability of art and thought to far too many of us is one of the forms oppression takes in this culture. I grew up in a lower-middle-class suburb of San Francisco. In my house there were next to no books (something by Pearl Buck, a book titled Kon-Tiki, a book titled The Bad Seed), nor was there much in the way of music. There was a whole lot of TV. Through some quirk of fate (or quirks: Sputnik and the San Francisco counterculture) I was finally allowed to read books and listen to music. The world banged open for me because of it.
Of course, the Ruling Order (to borrow a phrase from Noam Chomsky, another smarter-than-thou professor that Hampton probably doesn't like) would prefer that we all just read Pearl Buck. Or Kon-Tiki. People who have read Stevens or Adorno make for poorish workers.
I've always known that the bosses in our social factory didn't want me to read. I'm disturbed that my use of what I've read should be so objectionable to Hampton. But I've always been an incorrigible boy, so, to paraphrase Charlton Heston, "You'll pry these books from my cold dead hands."
Howard Hampton replies: While capitalism gives us shoddy public education and woefully inequitable health care, it's actually not so bad at providing affordable art/culture/information. You can buy an armload of good, cheap used books of any type, rent Tarkovsky and Hou Hsiao-hsien DVDs by mail, and order the Art Ensemble of Chicago's greatest bleats, all for considerably less than a monthly health insurance premium. While we may not have Chantal Akerman-on-demand orThe Noam Chomsky Comedy Hour on PBS, I'm betting we'll see them before the underprivileged get medical coverage or decent schools.
As for the notion that "people who have read Stevens . . . make for poorish workers," Wallace Stevens himself worked for 34 years at the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, where he was vice president at the time of his death. His poetry hardly prevented him from becoming a model company man, which leads me to think the relationship between fine art and good politics may be more paradoxical than White is willing to admit.
Re "The Dennis Kucinich Polka" [The Essay, January 14-20]:
I want to thank Stephen Elliott for his honestynot only in discussing what he sees and hears, but also in what he feels. It's that emotion that he allows himself to experience that sets him apart. I only wish that other journalists had this type of love for their work and this honesty in covering a political iconeven if that icon just happens to be one of the last in line.
The day I first read about Dennis Kucinich having an exploratory committee before deciding to run for president, I was excited. The things he stood for were so in line with my values. His background was similarworking through college, lower-middle-class family, and he's vegan.
I can't say I could ever go that far. I love cheese, but I've been a vegetarian for over nine years now and a Kucinich supporter for a little over six months, and somehow they go hand in hand.
Life is cyclic, and I invite you to explore yours further.
Deanna M. Root
Student and Youth Coordinator,
Dennis Kucinich for President
MORE LETTERS ABOUT DENNIS AND FOOD
How unfortunate that Stephen Elliott felt the need to characterize Kucinich's supporters as witches and an assortment of off-the-wall crazies. Elliott simply took the offensive verbally rather than give Kucinich the silent treatment he has been getting from the mainstream press, right down to a focus on cutesy references to food and looks.
There are a lot of folks out here who take issueyou know, those of us who are teachers and doctors and administrators and techies and labor folks and farmers and business owners and students. We have gathered in support of Dennis Kucinich, and even if he doesn't win he will have taught us all lessons about the system, while giving heart to some folks who believe in what he has to tell us.